19 Ukrainians, Russians, Filipinas rescued in bar raid
A raid on an upscale entertainment club in Pasay City suspected of being a prostitution front led to the rescue on Tuesday night of 19 women—13 Filipinos and six others from Russia and Ukraine—believed to be victims of human trafficking.
Dante Bonoan, chief of the Anti-Human Trafficking Division of the National Bureau of Investigation which conducted the operation, said the raid was based on information that Starwood VIP Lounge in the Edsa International Entertainment Complex had been recruiting young girls from Russia as dancers and guest relation officers. There were also reports that its workers were offering sex for a fee.
The 19 women were rescued after they pole-danced in skimpy attire and gave lap dances to customers during an entrapment operation. When asked for their documents, they presented only the photocopies of their special working permits from the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (Peza).
Bonoan, however, said that the fact that the women did not have the originals of their travel documents was already an indication that they were victims of human trafficking. On top of this, they were working in a place highly suspected of being a front for prostitution, he added.
“They said they were contracted to engage in pole dancing. But their working permits should be [for establishments in] economic zones or areas accredited by Peza; clubs are definitely not included,” he said.
According to him, he believed that a big-time syndicate was behind the recruitment of the foreigners since the rescued women were housed in separate rooms at an exclusive condominium. “Would you spend so much to recruit them just for pole-dancing?” Bonoan asked.
The NBI took into custody several employees of the club for questioning. The 13 Filipino women, on the other hand, were taken in by the social welfare department while the NBI said it was waiting for the advice of the Department of Justice’s Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking on what they should do about the six foreigners.
Meanwhile, a lawyer for Starwood who declined to give his name maintained that the foreigners were professional pole dancers from Russia and Ukraine and that the club was a legitimate entertainment establishment.
“The women have their passports but the [NBI] is making it appear that these are being withheld by the company,” he said.
Bonoan said the NBI had also received reports about foreigners engaged in prostitution in Metro Manila and Cebu although they were hampered by the lack of resources since it was expensive to go on surveillance in exclusive clubs. “Our surveillance of Starwood alone cost us P20,000 to P30,000,” he added.
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